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Here is the Church Here is the Steeple: the Traditionalist Pathway

This post is part of a series exploring different ways to connect with God.

Peace be with you. And also with you.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college I decided to join a Summer Mission Team sponsored by my church. I was appointed to a team that traveled around a few central states to lead Vacation Bible Schools. In eight weeks I traveled with my team of  six girls to six different cities. We led VBS’s of varying sizes, had water carnivals, led worship services and devotions, preached, sang, served in emergency disaster services, and spent a lot of time crammed into a van. But there was one thing that stayed consistent every day of that long and tiring summer: my daily devotions. Every morning I began my day by reading a chapter in the New Testament, and every evening I ended by reading Psalm 27.

I haven’t always been consistent with daily Bible reading, but that that one summer, it was the one thing that grounded me and kept me from going completely crazy. Every day the words of that same Psalm reminded me “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” When I was discouraged or frustrated with the ministry, the work, or even my teammates, I was reminded to “wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

The traditions of worship can be a comforting peace in the midst of the turmoil of life.

What is it

The traditionalist pathway is loving God through ritual, symbol, and sacrifice.

Rituals are part of a liturgical pattern. They can be as broad as the Lenten and Advent seasons that mark the church calendar reminding us to prepare for the celebration of the birth and death and resurrection of Christ. They can be as specific as the tradition of praying before a meal. They include daily Bible reading and prayer, reading a specific passage daily, reciting memorized prayers. Some denominations use rituals as part of their worship service, from the processional entrance of the clergy, to the echoed prayers, to the chanting, kneeling, and praying.

Symbols are representations used to remind us of important spiritual truths. “Symbols have nothing to do with saving us, but they have everything to do with realizing the effect of that salvation on our everyday lives” (Sacred Pathways, p. 94). Common Christian symbols include the Bible, a cross, a fish, a dove, an anchor, baptism, and communion. My denomination has it’s own set of symbols including a flag. You might adopt a personal symbol such as a ring or a tattoo that constantly reminds you of God’s presence in your life.

Sacrifice keeps our expressions of worship rooted in reality. Common examples of sacrifice include tithing and fasting. It is a way of reminding us that what we have is only a gift from God

Notable Examples

Moses and Aaron are examples of traditional worshipers as they follow the sacrifice and worship codes given by God in the priestly duties and building the tabernacle as a place of worship.

Actions and Reflections

The traditional pathway was simple to plan, as traditional worship and personal quiet time was what I had been most accustomed to. I decided to read a Psalm every morning and evening for a week as well as read a Scripture passage and a devotional every day. I also decided to bring back the tradition of praying before all my meals.

What I observed from this experience was that the old traditions of my youth were comforting like an old quilt or the shawl we used to steal from my mother when she left it on a chair. There are a lot of calm memories attached to that old shawl. The other thing I noticed was that the old traditions were easily dropped and forgotten. The evening psalm lasted almost the entire week. The morning psalm lasted a few days along with the daily Scripture and devotion. The meal prayers were forgotten almost immediately.

There is a lot I like about the comforting pattern of traditional worship. But I did not like the dependence on keeping those patterns. Again, a worship pathway where I found some connection to God, but not my main one.

How about you? Do you enjoy the patterns of traditional worship?

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Taste and See…and Hear and Smell and Touch: the Sensate Pathway

This post is part of a series exploring different ways to connect with God.

There is something within each of us that is awed by the presence of beauty. I believe it’s a flashing glimpse of our desire for the transcendence of heaven. –Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas

I picked up my guitar, dormant for more than a year, forgotten in the back of my closet, broken string, out of tune, almost unfamiliar to my fingers. I carefully fixed the broken string, tuned the instrument, and felt the strings bite into the tips of my fingers as they felt their way through the familiar chords. I pulled the sheaf of worship choruses out of the case, and very slowly made my way through them, strumming and singing. Then something happened.

I was transported.

I.

Was.

TRANSPORTED.

I was transported to a tiny camp, barely a half acre of land in rural Nebraska, to a campfire on the last night of camp where the distinct odor of a rural Nebraska farm combined with the smoke from the flames as we held hands through 15 verses of Kumbaya.

I was transported to a college gymnasium-turned-chapel 3 times a week, filled with students with arms raised, earnestly singing “Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts.”

I was transported to a cathedral in Israel, artwork and candles covering every wall, floor, and ceiling, air heavy with the smoke of incense and candles and the breath of countless pilgrims.

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Candles and art at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Israel

I was transported to a living room in South Dakota, where the coffee was strong, the hugs were tight, and the conversation about faith ran deep.

That moment of worship brought back the sights, sounds, scents, flavors, and touch of a thousand moments of worship. I was transported to the very throne room of God.

What is it

The Sensate pathway is loving God through the senses. It means participating in worship not just by hearing and thinking, but also by seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting.

Worship through sound can include music. Worship through smell can include incense, scents attached to memories such as the campfire smell I mentioned before. Worship through touch can include tactile reminders of lessons, such as a stone you may carry in your pocket to remind you of Jesus the rock of salvation, or the touch of the guitar strings or other instruments. Worship through sight can include art. Worship through taste can include the elements of communion, the elements of a Passover seder (sweet and bitter flavors are purposefully chosen and consumed to remind the worshiper of the sweetness of God and the bitterness of slavery).

Worship through the senses can bring a profound appreciation of beauty which arouses humility, as you begin to understand your own limitation for creating great art, then it brings dignity when you understand the level of greatness you actually can create, and finally the beauty of art can produce a different worldview, “The unworthy sinks, the true and the good emerge and grow” (Sacred Pathways, p. 64). And finally, an encounter with beauty brings you back to the real world–but as a changed person.

Notable Examples

Ezekiel, through his prophetic writings, uses vivid imagery, incorporating multiple sensations in his depiction of the presence of God leaving and later returning to the temple. He feels a wind, he sees a flash of lightning surrounded by brilliant light, fantastic creatures, and a magnificent and stunning throne of saphire (Ezekiel 1:4, 5-14, 26-27). He hears the sound of wings like the roar of rushing waters and a soud rumbling (1:24; 3:12-13). He is then asked to eat a scroll that tastes sweet (3:1-3).

Another sensate is Henri Nouwen, a priest and author, who was moved and inspired by the sight of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal, “It’s beautiful, more than beautiful…I can’t tell you what I feel as I look at it, but it touches me deeply.”

Actions and Reflections

To experience the sensate pathway I carved out a couple worship experiences that incorporated the senses. I lit some incense, pulled out my guitar, and sang some simple worship choruses, combining smell, sound, and the feel of the guitar strings under my finger. Another time I put some worship music in my earbuds and began to draw, combining sight and sound.

This was an incredibly moving spiritual pathway for me, and possibly the main way that I connect with God. It was amazing to engage more than one sense, more than one part of my brain, as I worshiped.

I plan to keep my guitar in a more accessible place so I can play it more often. I also plan to continue with my drawing–both the guitar and the art I don’t think of as a skill I would necessarily share with the world yet (I suppose I would be better at both if I practiced) but both have been useful in my spiritual life and emotional life.